British interior minister Theresa May and eurosceptic rival Andrea Leadsom emerged as the two candidates who will battle to become Britain’s next prime minister and lead the country out of the EU.
May won 199 votes and Leadsom 84 in a second ballot of politicians of the governing Conservative party.
Justice secretary Michael Gove took just 46 votes and was eliminated from the race.
“This vote shows that the Conservative Party can come together, and under my leadership it will,” May told supporters after the results were announced.
Grassroots Conservatives will now vote to decide whether May or Leadsom becomes Britain’s first woman prime minister since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in 1990.
The result of the contest is expected by September 9, meaning businesses and investors must endure two more months of uncertainty over who will lead the huge task of disentangling Britain’s economy from the EU while trying to safeguard trade and investment.
Interior minister May, 59, has served for the past six years in one of the toughest portfolios in government. Leadsom, 53, is a junior energy minister who has never served in cabinet.
However, despite her strong lead in the vote of MPs, May is far from assured of winning the race for Downing Street.
During the referendum campaign she took a low-key stance in favour of Britain remaining in the EU, while Leadsom was a prominent voice in the winning Leave camp.
That could play well with grassroots members, who are strongly eurosceptic.
Leadsom, who entered parliament only six years ago, said her top priority would be to guarantee tariff-free trade with the EU after leaving. Leadsom has put her 25 years’ experience working in financial services at the centre of her campaign to become leader, having spent a decade working at Barclays Bank and fund manager Invesco Perpetual.
However, some of her career credentials are being called into doubt.
She told the BBC that questions about her career record were “ridiculous” and her CV was “all absolutely true”.
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